On September 12, 2013, Mr. D arrived in Macon from Indianapolis, Indiana, by bus looking for a policeman to take him to Milledgeville to turn himself in to the Baldwin County Sheriff Department. Mr. D’s Social Security and SSI benefits had been terminated due to an outstanding warrant for violation of probation due to a traffic ticket. Until his benefits were stopped, Mr. D had not been aware of having been placed on probation. He came to Georgia believing he would have to serve time in jail to get his income back. Instead, with help from Georgia Legal Services, he went home with $59,000 in back benefits.
Mr. D is a member of a large group of Social Security beneficiaries who have lost benefits over the past few years because the Social Security Administration had been illegally terminating or denying benefits to persons it believed to be “fleeing felons.” These individuals were alleged to have outstanding warrants against them for parole or probation violations. In most cases, they were never notified why their benefits had been stopped. Moreover, many of those whose benefits were stopped were not in fact the correct individuals, due to similar names, or who, in fact, had no outstanding cases against them. Many like Mr. D, had only a minor charge of which they were not aware or which had been long ago dismissed by law enforcement officials. Many were in nursing homes or were disabled, and far from “fleeing.” A nationwide class action lawsuit, styled Clark v. Astrue, won a court ruling that back benefits had to be paid to people who were unfairly denied them. GLSP has helped hundreds of Georgians with cases similar to Mr. D’s, most of whom were elderly and had no idea why their benefits had been stopped.
After being hit in the head in 2004, Mr. D. had applied for and was awarded Social Security and SSI benefits. He was notified by the Social Security Administration in January 2010, that his benefits were being terminated and should have been terminated as of September 2009 due to the existence of the outstanding probation warrant in Baldwin County. The probation arose from an incident in 2009 when Mr. D was returning home from Washington County where he had visited his sister. Driving through Baldwin County, he was stopped by the Sheriff’s Department for a traffic violation. He returned home to Indiana, failed to appear for his court hearing and, without his knowledge, was placed on probation for the traffic violation.
After his benefits were stopped, Mr. D believed he needed a criminal attorney to resolve the warrant issue, he sought the assistance of two criminal attorneys in Indiana. The attorneys made a couple of telephone calls to the Probation Office in Milledgeville only to inform him that he did have an outstanding warrant out for his arrest. They provided him no assistance with SSA. Mr. D. stated he had never heard of Legal Aid.
As a result of losing his benefits Mr. D. and his wife became homeless. His wife got a job as a waitress and they moved into various motels. Believing that it was the only way he could get his benefits restarted, Mr. D. Came to Macon to turn himself in to authorities to serve whatever time he had to serve.
After getting off the bus in Macon, he asked four people for directions to the police department. All four people gave him the wrong directions. He was wandering around the courthouse and ran into Phil Bond, Managing Attorney, Macon Office of Georgia Legal Services. Mr. D. explained his situation to Mr. Bond not knowing who Mr. Bond was or where he worked. Mr. Bond told Mr. D. that GLSP could help him and brought him to paralegal Leroy White to assist him.
Mr. White spoke with Rachael Henderson, GLSP Social Security Specialist and explained the situation to her. Ms. Henderson has worked on the Clark v. Astrue case since it began and had one of the earliest clients to receive back benefits. She advised Mr. White to take Mr. D. to the Macon SSA and explain that he was a class member of Clark v. Astrue which Mr. White did.
The SSA representative agreed that Mr. D. was a Clark member and informed Mr. D. that he had Social Security benefits of $59,860.00 available to him due to the Clark case. Mr. D.’s Case was reopened, and he was told that he would have to go to his local SSA to update his information so the lump sum benefits could be released to him.
Mr. White explained that Mr. D. had no money to return home and SSA agreed to cut him a check for one month of his benefit of $731.00. Attorney Amanda Smith took Mr. D. to her bank where he was able to cash the check. Mr. White took Mr. D. To the bus station to buy a ticket home and then took him to the motel across the street from the bus station. Mr. White spoke with Mr. D’s wife on September 16 and she informed him that he was at the local SSA office updating his information so the lump sum benefits could be issued to him.